Britain’s Labour launches election campaign after TV clash
British opposition leader Ed Miliband launched his campaign Friday to defeat Prime Minister David Cameron in upcoming general elections after primetime television interviews in which neither man landed a knockout blow.
With a knife-edge poll looming, Miliband, leader of the centre-left Labour, admitted the May 7 poll would be the “tightest general election for a generation” during an event at the Olympic Park in east London.
Pledging to help the middle and lower income voters who Labour says have been left behind by Cameron’s Conservative-led coalition government, Miliband insisted: “The Tories say this is as good as it gets — we say Britain can do better than this.”
His speech came hours after he and Cameron took part in the first big television event of the campaign — a question and answer session in which they were grilled separately by veteran journalist Jeremy Paxman and a studio audience.
A Guardian/ICM snap poll after the programme indicated that 54 percent of viewers gave Cameron victory compared to 46 percent for Miliband.
Commentators disagreed on whether Cameron, who focused on his party’s economic record, or what one called a “surprisingly punk” Miliband came out on top.
But many said the main winner was the formidable Paxman, known for his withering glares and sceptical arched eyebrows.
“Under interrogation from Mr Paxman, Mr Cameron gave a rather defensive performance,” The Times newspaper said in its editorial. “There was one obvious winner last night: Jeremy Paxman.”
Miliband, who struggles with an often awkward media persona, took a more combative approach to Paxman’s questions. When asked if he had the steel needed to be prime minister, he responded: “Hell yes, I’m tough enough”.
The show was watched live by just under three million people on Channel 4 and Sky News.
– NHS at heart of campaign –
The Conservatives and Labour are neck-and-neck in opinion polls on 34 percent, according to an average calculated by the UK Polling Report website.
Both parties were hoping the TV debates would break the stalemate and see their leader edge ahead.
Although campaigning has been taking place since the start of the year, the formal election campaign gets under way on Monday after parliament closed down on Thursday ahead of the election.
Miliband’s speech featured pledges to protect Britain’s state-run National Health Service (NHS) from what he claims is creeping privatisation under Cameron’s coalition.
These included a new five percent cap on profits for private companies which take on NHS contracts worth over £500,000 (680,000 euros, $745,000).
Polling by IPSOS/Mori indicates that the NHS is the most important issue for voters at the election and Labour, which founded the health service in 1948, has put it at the centre of its campaign.
Labour was in power in Britain between 1997 and 2010 under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown before being replaced by the current Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government led by Cameron
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